Flutie and Johnson battle to DRAW, but Bills lose

SAN DIEGO -- At worst, Rob Johnson battled Doug Flutie to a draw in Sunday's quarterback derby at Qualcomm Stadium. Unfortunately for Johnson and the rest of the Buffalo Bills, most of the rest of the key plays in San Diego's 27-24 win were made by men wearing Chargers uniforms.


"This is right up there with the Tennessee game -- it hurts that much," Johnson said. "This game was huge for us. We were playing a lot of our old teammates, with Mr. Butler there and his scouting department -- it's Bills West."

The best-known ex-Bill, Flutie provided the winning margin with a swerving 13-yard touchdown run with 1:10 remaining. His touchdown run came 20 seconds after Johnson directed Buffalo on a 12-play, 68-yard drive capped by Travis Henry's 3-yard touchdown run.

"We felt like we drove the ball all the way down the field and we thought we had it," Henry said.

Flutie's touchdown wiped out a game in which the Bills did most of the coming back. After a miserable first quarter during which San Diego gained 162 yards while the Bills retreated 12, the Bills started moving the ball after falling behind 13-0 and didn't stop until Henry's score. Without a consistent running game, Johnson completed 24 of 37 passes for 310 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown to Peerless Price with 10:11 to play.

That touchdown cut San Diego's lead to three points. It also showed the continuing development of both Johnson and Price.

"I was stutter-stepping to go inside, but the corner jumped inside and the safety sat, so I went outside," Price said. "Rob read what I was doing and he threw a great ball."

The scoring strike came on Johnson's first pass after his underthrown attempt to hit Eric Moulds deep was intercepted by San Diego free safety Jason Perry, who returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and a 10-point Chargers lead.

"I thought what the coaches did at halftime, how the players responded at halftime, how we responded from being down early and continuing on with the plan and doing what we needed to do to give us a chance to be in the ballgame -- everything operated pretty well," said Bills coach Gregg Williams. "There were just a couple of plays at the end that we didn't make."

One play that didn't get made was Jake Arians' 44-yard field goal try with 16 second left, which would have sent the game into overtime. San Diego's 6-foot-7 Ed Ellis, a University at Buffalo graduate, preserved the win by blocking the kick.

Another was Ronney Jenkins' 72-yard kickoff return after Henry's score. Bills punter and kickoff specialist Brian Moorman exacerbated the breakdown by getting flagged for taunting after his touchdown-saving tackle.

"The guys just didn't make it off blocks and make a play," Williams said. "We covered kicks all week long. We had guys that end up going to the ground and they lost their feet in the turf."

The tumultuous final two minutes capped a game that got progressively wilder.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson placed Super Bowl-like importance on the game last spring, due to his belief that former Buffalo general manager John Butler had deceived him before the owner fired him in December. For the first 15 minutes, the Bills played like their predecessors in their final three trips to the Big One.

Flutie went 9-of-11 for 104 yards and a 1-yard touchdown to Freddie Jones in the first quarter. LaDainian Tomlinson gutted Buffalo's run defense for 53 yards on nine carries. And former Bills defensive end Marcellus Wiley forcing a Johnson fumble that Leonardo Carson recovered at Buffalo's 20-yard line.

All of the above put San Diego ahead 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and had the Chargers poised to add another touchdown as the second opened. But on second-and-goal from Buffalo's 1, Bills linebacker Keith Newman rushed Flutie into an incomplete pass. On the next play, free safety Raion Hill hit Tomlinson in the backfield, forcing the rookie running back outside and into the arms of Newman for a 6-yard loss.

San Diego had to settle for Wade Richey's field goal, leaving the Bills within two scores. At that point, Bills wide receiver Eric Moulds delivered a quick pep talk on the sidelines, calling on the franchise's rich history of comebacks for inspiration.

"I just told them, 'We're getting blown out right now,'" Moulds said. "I told them what the Bills had done in the past -- come back and get in ballgames and take the lead. I knew we could win the ballgame, because of the talent that we have.

"I told guys that they needed to play, or get out of here right now. I think guys took it to heart, and said, 'We're going to play and give it everything we've got, and leave it all out on the field.'"

The Chargers didn't score again until Perry's interception return with 10:34 left, with Flutie going 12-of-22 for 150 yards over the final three quarters, while Tomlinson managed but 23 yards on seven carries the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Buffalo's offense suddenly came alive. After a trade of punts, Johnson completed three passes, including a 46-yarder to Peerless Price, that put the Bills inside San Diego's 1-yard line. On first down, Johnson plunged in for the touchdown.

While the Bills defense kept Flutie and the Chargers' offense in check until the decisive play, Johnson survived a vicious beating while supplying most of Buffalo's offense. In addition to his passing yardage, he scrambled for 67 of the Bills' 105 rushing yards.

A foot injury forced him off for two plays in the third quarter, but he returned after going to the locker room for a fresh tape job. He was also shaken up on the play before Henry's touchdown, when Perry drilled him along the sideline, sending him head-first into the grass.

"We look for him to make big plays and with him doing that and showing leadership it makes us want to go out and do the same," Henry said. "Rob played a good game today -- he came back in and showed leadership and was poised."

But it was Flutie who got the final chance at a big play. After Jenkins' kickoff return and Moorman's penalty put the ball at Buffalo's 13, he drifted back to pass. Bills defensive tackle Shawn Price had a shot at knocking the ball loose, but whiffed. Flutie dashed off to the left, cut back to the middle, and pranced into the end zone.

"I didn't have anything," Flutie said. "All of a sudden, I felt pressure and ducked under it. I was still on my feet and it was time to take off."

While Wilson had to be disappointed in the loss, Buffalo's owner didn't show any regret about the quarterback choice made by Williams and team president Tom Donahoe last winter. He talked with a heavily bandaged Johnson for several minutes in the locker room, offering his congratulations and condolences.

"He was limping around, playing hard -- he's a gutsy guy," Wilson said. "He just had a terrific game and so did the rest of the guys. Everybody can be proud of the Bills today."

That didn't provide much consolation to the players, though.

"It's kind of hard to keep saying we're getting better and better and we keep losing," said Peerless Price, who had eight catches for a career-high 151 yards. "I'd rather have a win 3-2 than have a great game and lose."

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